Here are my three key matchups for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on defense.
Aqib Talib vs Steve Smith
This will be an interesting matchup. Steve Smith is having his best season in years, as the veteran wideout has been revitalized by Cam Newton. Meanwhile Aqib Talib is coming off two stellar games in which he shut down Greg Jennings and Nate Washington, even notching a touchdown off an interception.
But can Aqib Talib show up for a third game in a row and shut down Steve Smith? The inconsistent cornerback has the talent and skill to do so, but he will need to show off his ability to concentrate which has been lacking in the past.
Tanard Jackson & Sean Jones vs Jonathan Stewart
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been completely incapable of stopping the run this season. Two culprits can be identified: a lack of gap discipline, and an inability to perform simple form tackles. The worst offender has been Tanard Jackson, who has missed an ungodly amount of tackles and doesn't look decisive when lining up to tackle someone. His year-long absence from football can probably be blamed for that, but that doesn't matter to the Bucs: they need someone to be the eighth man in the box and help stop the run, and Jackson is a liability in that role.
Of course, Sean Jones isn't much better. While Jones is a better player he lacks speed and simply does not look like an impact player.His lack of speed shows up against fast players, who can simply outrun him, and Stewart is certainly fast enough to do that. If the Bucs want to stop the run, they need better play from their safeties on Sunday.
Adrian Clayborn vs Jordan Gross
Adrian Clayborn has had a terrific season so far, especially as a pass rusher. He looks powerful and explosive and can show off a variety of moves to get to the quarterback. In recent weeks opponents have been forced to pay more and more attention to the rookie, keeping in backs and tight ends to chip-block or even double team the defensive end. Despite that he has notched five sacks this season.
Adrian Clayborn will have to show off his tricks again against the Carolina Panthers, and will be the best pass rusher on the field with Michael Bennett missing the game because of a groin injury. He'll be facing off against solid veteran left tackle Jordan Gross. Clayborn has the skills to beat Gross, but the question is whether he can get Newton on the ground and whether the rest of the defensive line can do enough to keep Newton in the pocket.